A good start

The trade department is going around discussing a good idea with people involved in sourcing materials, especially in the construction industry.

The idea is to ensure that only business entities with a dealership or wholesale licences are allowed to import brands or products from principal companies. While the immediate challenge is in identifying which business entities are implementing the idea, it sounds logical for many reasons.

The construction industry, even with decades of experience, cannot shake off the poor quality tag. Whether it is the construction or materials used in it, the common complaint is the quality and the high cost. If it is a government project, it is even worse as the motive to maximise profit overshadows quality.

For the government, sourcing materials through an established channel could help reflect accurate data of import, which is indispensable in planning and policymaking. Sourcing from principal companies has the benefit of not paying the Indian integrated goods and service tax. This benefit could trickle down to the people.

The escalating cost of construction materials and labour is attributed to the escalating house rent. Builders have to recoup enough to repay the loan they availed. The burden is passed down to the tenants. Many salaried people pay at least 50 to 60 percent of their salary in house rent.

The focus on quality and price of building products and, thereby, on the construction industry as a whole is a welcome move. For a country that took pride in building dzongs, bridges or Lhakhang, which formed the country’s physical façade, the problems in the construction industry is a shame. We cannot build a simple bazam or an overhead pass without imported materials and manpower.

When the so-called local area plans opened up in the thromdes, the rush was to build and build it cheap with little regard to aesthetics or comfort. However, there is a growing interest in quality building. Builders, especially those who build a house travel to Bangkok, Singapore or even to Chinese cities to look for quality materials and fittings.

If our suppliers are not being honest, the numerous dealers or the so-called hardware shops cannot recognise genuine products from spurious ones or they don’t care at all as business people. We cannot question a private builders’ choice of materials but we sure can if what is specified is replaced with cheap imitations in government projects that still compose a major part of the construction industry.

Another problem the construction industry is facing in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic is the shortage of skilled and semi-skilled workers. The industry has come to a standstill because foreign workers left.

We are also discussing how to replace the imported workforce to ensure our works are not hampered. There are discussions and projects to skill, build and replace the growing demand of workers.  While we commend the efforts, it should not end there. Many are already leaving the sector despite the initial enthusiasm.

How to engage them and make it a lucrative sector could be the subject for another discussion and consultation. Consultation, it is said, can identify opportunities, assist decision-making and help ensure any new ideas work effectively in practice. It is a good start.

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